Bontrager RXL Road Shoes Preliminary Review

For about the past year, I was sporting a set of 2011 Bontrager’s RL road shoes, which are very similar to the RXLs, but have a lower grade of carbon in the outsole, and a few other differences from the higher-end shoes.  With two exceptions (discussed below), the shoes were great.  However, when I had a recent issue with the shoes that was resolved under warranty, as the 2011 RLs were not available in my size, I had a chance to upgrade to the new RXLs.  This is my “first look” review.

Nice venting all over…and a nice heal guard (that can be easily replaced if worn/damaged.  You can also see the “gold” carbon outsole.

Side view, with some Time i-Clic cleats:

Mmmm. Shiny.

Note the mesh toe box and mesh between the straps.  There is a ton of venting in the shoes.

The old RLs had two problems, for me:

First, the eSoles insert in the shoes was just wrong for my feet.  I have pretty unremarkable feet…they’re narrow, but otherwise, very normal arches and appearance.  It is incredibly rare for me to find a shoe that doesn’t fit, or that causes me discomfort (unless it’s too wide).  I can wear just about any dress shoe, running shoe, sandal, etc., without issue.  The eSoles insert started hurting at about minute 15 of my first ride.  I tried bearing with them, but the pain would just get unbearable…after a ride, when I took my shoes off, my feet would cramp up.  I looked at getting other eSoles inserts, only to find that they were $50…which seemed like a big investment given the cost of the shoes.  I ended up using the insoles from my old Louis Garneau road shoes, which caused me no difficulties.

The second problem I had was my narrow feet.  Even with the shorter strap and a low volume shoe, I had the shoes strapped down as tight as they’d go to get a comfortable, secure fit.

The RXLs solve both of those problems.  The insole is amazingly comfortable and heat moldable (more on that below), and the shoe itself is cut a bit narrower and smaller volume.  I’m wearing the “standard volume” shoe now, and there’s plenty of adjustability in the straps.  I had no problem getting them comfortable.

Thus far, my total ride time on the shoes is a couple of hours–and that was before heat molding the insoles.  They worked amazingly well and were comfortable out of the box.  After heat molding, I can only believe that they’ll get better.

Here’s a comparison of the eSoles from my old RLs, next to the heat moldable insoles from the RXLs.

Here’s the same two insoles, viewed from the side:

My guess is that the RLs rely on the eSole, with a flat footbed in the shoe, to support the arch, whereas the RXLs use a molded footbed + the heat moldable insole.  Those pictures are post-heat molding, as is this picture:

In the olden days of heat molding, when I got my first set of heat-moldable ski boots, you had to take them to the ski shop, where they had a special boot heating device…and the process took a lot of time.  With these, it couldn’t be simpler.  Just pop out the insole:

Unvelcro the arch support from the insole:

And place the arch support into an oven that’s been preheated to 200 degrees.  Leave it in there for about 2 minutes (until the heat indicator on the arch support changes color)…then pull it out, stick it back on the insole, insert insole into shoes, and put shoes on.  Stand on them for ~3 minutes, and voila–all done.

I haven’t had a chance to ride them post-heating yet, but they were amazingly comfortable pre-heating, and I can’t help but think that this will improve them.  The multi-click (“Micro-Click”) adjustability on the primary strap is great; it makes it easy to tighten, and easy to release tension all at once (removing shoes) or a “1/2 click” at a time (adjusting shoes).  The velcro straps are easy to adjust and have good stiction.  The shoe’s internal volume seems to have been reduced, which is helpful for me, and the venting is beyond comparison.

You may notice that the shoes are sporting Time i-Clic cleats, rather than Crank Brothers Candy compatible cleats.  After some recent blogging about whether or not a road-specific cleat is a useful improvement, I’ve borrowed a set of i-Clics and will do a completely subjective comparison over the next few weeks.  Thus far, I can say that I’m impressed–particularly in out of the saddle efforts.  The impressive part is how rigid the connection to the bike feels with the Time pedals.  This may seem obvious, but it feels like a mechanical connection, like I’m a part of the bike.  I had not realized how much I was rotating my feet/ankles/knees when sprinting with the Candys.  I’m not a convert yet, and I need to figure out the proper cleat angle for me, but I’m impressed.  The difference was immediate and palpable.

After I get a few more miles under me, I’ll give an updated review on the cleats, pedals and shoes, but for now, I’m very pleased.

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2 thoughts on “Bontrager RXL Road Shoes Preliminary Review

  1. Pingback: Ridley Noah Fast.er. | ridingagainstthegrain

  2. Pingback: Time Iclic 2 Carbon Pedal Review | ridingagainstthegrain

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